So I spent Friday catching the second show on Iron Maiden's current US tour, which as anyone who pays attention to Blab or other participatory news sites already knows is stirring quite a bit of shit in the scene. Basement-dwellers and nostalgists are getting their knickers in a twist, actual metal fans are slapping themselves in the forehead, and everyone else is shaking their heads, bewildered that a 30-year old metal band whose most innovative and influential days are long behind them is still able to kick up so much controversy. Given this situation, any show review also has to address a lot of other stuff, as this one is going to do.
Despite some minor transpo delays (missed the preferable train by about 30 seconds, but it turned out not to really matter), my brother Jake and I got into town, onto the B train, and over to the venue without difficulty, collecting more and more fellow fans on the way. This is the really great thing about taking public transit to a gig or festival; at every stage, the number of metalheads around increases, giving a greater sense that you are 'home' and getting everyone more pumped up. You do have to watch out more closely for your stop, especially on the B line where the signs at T stops have been mostly effaced, but you also don't have to deal with parking and trying to get out after the show
In any case, we got in, and the coal-raking started. Let's start with three basic facts:
1) Iron Maiden is making a net profit on shows from ticket sales, especially in the case of a sellout like we had here.
2) Most of the bands that I go to see at the Palladium, Mark's, or the Middle East are making chicken scratch on the ticket price.
3) Normal underground bands thus depend on merch sales for survival.
Why are these important? Because of fact #4:
Most t-shirts sold at underground shows run $15 to $20, but Maiden was selling theirs for fucking 35 bucks. Yes, these were special tour-only designs, but still, 35 bucks? This is a total ripoff and shouldn't be tolerated. Unfortunately, metal fans are catastrophically weak against Iron Maiden tour-only shirt designs. I still bought one and was thinking about buying another. Even the whiners who were bitching about how much the show sucked on the T on the way back (more on them later) were fully decked out in new tour shirts. Economics is a dismal science because of what it tells you about your own priorities. Food and drink were not as bad, though the 'non-shitty' level of beer that goes for $5 in Worcester was selling for $6 here. Then again, a lot of things are cheaper in Worcester than they are in Boston.
Fully provisioned, we got down to our seats, which were almost worth the retarded scalper premium that I had to pay to fucking RazorGator to get them, and certainly much better than the ones in the rear of the hall, at the nosebleed ring, that I'd've been able to get from Ticketmaster. Scalping services still suck. We were about 10 rows back, right on the edge, basically parallel with the stage, and with enough elevation to see almost everything. Not the best seats in the house, but pretty damn good, and much better than being down on the floor. This is because the organizers were apparently retarded, and carpeted the floor of the arena with chairs, leaving only about 4 feet immediately in front of the rail. What the hell kind of setup is that for a metal show? The only other time I've seen seats that close is at ampitheater shows, but they're kind of built that way; there's no reason to put folding chairs out like that for a band like this. They should have put wave-breakers halfway across the floor and put seats behind there for the whiners who were going to bitch about Maiden doing new stuff regardless, then left the front open for general admission, and I can guarantee you that the reactions to this gig would have been unilaterally better.
So we sat around for a while, and then the lights dimmed and Amon Amar-- strike that, Bullet For My Valentine's intro music came on, with about 20% of the crowd actually in the hall. Opening for Iron Maiden is a tough gig, but in such a case you have to just rise to the challenge. Did BFMV? Nah, not so much.
Bullet For My Valentine [4.5/7]
They had some flashes of adequacy, and they were fighting a tough crowd in a nearly empty hall, probably the toughest situation I've seen since Metalfest, when Burn In Silence had to do their set in front of a total of like 50 people, 30 of whom were camping the front row for DragonForce. However, the fact remains that they were not terribly distinctive or original (that was me asking halfway through their set if they were paying royalties to In Flames), and that they're still a metalcore band. If they though they were going to gain any extra fans or sell any extra records by opening for one of the world's most distinctive and exciting heavy metal bands, they were totally mistaken -- and if Rod Smallwood thought that adding them to the bill would pull in more of the younger crowd, he's totally mental. Nobody likes them in this country. Younger people like Iron Maiden as Iron Maiden already. Overall, they were ok, but for the hype they get in the British press, they should have been much better. Support music, not Malcolm Dome's blatherings!
Following their set, I went out to get a beer and some nachos while the roadies re-dressed the set and everyone else got into the hall. In line, I got more than a few positive comments on my jacket, though there were a few other people in similar rigs there. It does kind of stand out -- just a little -- so this is understandable. BFMV only played about half an hour after starting early, so by 8:30, the lights were coming down again, and this time with almost every seat in the house occupied. Well, more like every seat in the house had someone standing in front of it.
Iron Maiden [6.5/7]
The band tore out of the gates with "Different World", and quickly made their intention to play the whole record front to back known. This may have disenheartened some people, but nobody where I was at, and over at least the first third of the arena, not an ass hit a chair from the first note of the intro music to the last of the last encore. The energy level fell a little over "Lord of Light" and "The Legacy", but with the amount of punch that "Fear of the Dark" brought back, it's hard not to think that this great show could have been even better if Maiden had adhered to their previous formula of doing six new tracks interspersed in a bunch of older material rather than playing the whole record. The show was still awesome, both in music and in production, but might have been better with a different concept.
However, that concept in itself is what makes this tour new, different, and so thoroughly controversial. Playing the new record in its entirety is a violently confrontational declaration that Iron Maiden is NOT in any way shape or form a nostalgia band, grinding out the bucks by being a heavy metal jukebox for fans there to relive the old days. It's also an affirmation by the band of their confidence in their new material -- and possibly a slap at Kevin Shirley, because the new stuff sounds a lot rawer, heavier, and overall better live than on record, where something must have happened in the production chain to make it generally meh. This confidence is justified (mostly), with the exceptions being in the way that the record trails off at the end. This isn't something that the band can just adjust to and get around, unlike the out-of-tune acoustic guitar that the techs dropped on Janick at the start of "The Legacy". Overall, the performance was great, though a little held back by the material.
On the way back, we got to take the pulse of the fans regarding the show by listening in on various conversations. Most people were impressed and thought the new material, and the decision to play it all, was cool, but on the T, there was this little knot of people just nonstop talking shit about how the new material sucked, how Iron Maiden "didn't play anything", and how disappointing it was. This was counterbalanced by me laughing at them inside, and my brother and a large group of people behind us restraining themselves with difficulty from kicking their asses, but still is evidence that though 70-90% of Maiden fans support the band in taking this risk, there's still 10-30% jukebox fans in the audience who are going to talk shit no matter what, because the band didn't follow the setlist on their personal best-of playlist.
"Didn't play anything?" What fucking show were you at, you retards, because I heard this out of Maiden:
These Colors Don't Run
Brighter Than A Thousand Suns
The Longest Day
Out Of The Shadows
The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
For The Greater Good of God
Lord of Light
Fear of the Dark
2 Minutes To Midnight
The Evil That Men Do
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Did you just not hear the entire frigging arena singing along on "Fear...", doing the woah-oh-ohs like a German festival crowd? Were you in the bathroom when everyone in this American audience that supposedly didn't know any of the new stuff was singing back the whole chorus on "These Colors Don't Run"? "KISS wouldn't've done something like this"; "KISS never disappoints" -- of course not, you retards, because KISS isn't a band any more. They are a brand that Gene Simmons keeps in the news so he can take more of your money; they couldn't do something like this because they haven't put out a new record at all in 8 years, or a decent album in the last 20. These were the people talking shit despite being decked out in new overpriced merch; as KISS fans, their "eat what's put in your bowl" reflexes are unparalleled, and their "appreciate music as music" nodes are naturally somewhat atrophied.
I'm a metal fan who's into this music for the music and for the transformative effect that it can create personally and culturally. If this is you as well, you will love this tour and the idea behind it. If, however, you view bands more as general entertainers than specifically musicians, you will also come out of your ~local (only 11 shows in North America on this run) date pumped up about the tank, but bitching that they didn't fire the cannon or play your personal favorites from 20 years ago. If this is the case, don't forget to go to the Golden Years tour in 2008 -- and watch out for me and my bro there, because we'll punch you right in the head if you have the nerve to bitch about them not playing any new stuff.
I am still inspired and excited about the community-building and ennobling effects of underground metal, but the more larger shows I go to, the more I have to acknowledge that Wichser Hoert Mit (ask a German friend for translation). This weekend is Vital and Dismember, though, so there should be more underground cameraderie (not like this was really lacking) and much, much, less bitching from retards, who will for the most part probably be too scared to show up. SILENT ARE THE WATCHERS!!